Monday, March 27, 2017

What God has Joined: Towards a more Compelling Complementarianism part 2

Last week I posted the first in a 2 part blog here. I suggested that husbands and wives were created to complement eachother in marriage and ministry, which should liberate us because equality of dignity does not come from equality of role. Having written about the liberation that should come from this view, I want to explore the motivation that should come from this view. 

Motivation: Putting the Complementary back into Complementarian

My main concern here is not to try and convert Egalitarians into Complementarians. Kathy Keller does a much better job of that than I could ever hope to do in her book, Jesus, Justice and Gender Roles.  My real concern though,  is to motivate my Complementarian brothers and sisters to put the complementary back into Complementarian ministry. With this in mind, Gavin Ortlund writes a very insightful article entitled 4 Dangers for Complementarians, in which he warns against trying to live this view out faithfully but not beautifully, among other dangers.  

When God created male and female in His image, he envisaged that Adam and Eve would be like two complementary colors creating a more compelling and beautiful image together than apart. When God said that Eve would be Adam’s helper, (Genesis 2:18) the word is ezer, which carries no connotations of weakness or inferiority at all. In fact, God uses the same word to describe how He helps His creation when they cannot help themselves. (Psalm 46:1) The term means complementary strength. The essence of our Complementarian conviction is that Adam needed Eve’s complementary strength in order to fulfill the call to be an image bearer of God in every sphere of life.

When it comes to the family, we know that having an absent mother or father makes the raising of children a very difficult task, and that a husband and wife who parent as a united, yet diverse team, create parenting synergy in the home that is beneficial for children. They’re better together. Yet when it comes to the family of God, we seem to downplay this principle of synergy because of our conviction that men and women play different roles. Many elder’s wives in Complementarian churches seem absent in the name of having distinct roles. It seems to me that when it comes to ministry in the family of God, we Complementarians are more prone to have conversations about what women can’t do than what they can do.

I realize that for many wives, investment in ministry with their husband is expressed in a myriad meaningful, yet invisible ways. Prayer, encouragement, hospitality and keeping the homes fires burning are all vital ways of providing complementary help. It seems that the Apostle Peter's wife was this kind of pastor's wife. We know that she traveled with Peter, which must have been very costly to their family, but we don't hear anything more of her except that Peter saw her as a 'co-heir in the gracious gift of life.' ( 1 Pet 3:7) She might have been invisible but she was certainly invested. 

However, there was another pastor's wife called Priscilla in the early church. Aquila and his wife Priscilla had a church that met in their house. (1 Cor 16:19) They also owned a business together that employed Paul during his tent-making years and were ministry companions with him on his apostolic travels. When Paul left them to care for the church in Corinth, both Priscilla and Aquila brought the young preacher Apollos into their home and taught him the way of God more adequately. (Acts 19) They were a formidable team, but Priscilla was more visible and vocal than Peter's wife. 

A spacious Complementarianism avoids gender stereo-typing, making room for both Peter's wife and Aquila's wife on a team. Some wives are happier playing a supporting role behind the scenes and they should be honored as such. Other wives may have more visible gifts of leadership, administration, speaking, worship leading or prophecy, and they should be celebrated rather than held at arms length in case their gifting makes men feel insecure. We need to avoid a patriarchal view of women that caricatures women as weak and resists their strength as un-submissive.  

The key though, is to find how husbands and wives can complement each other as a team. Again, Lewis speaks of the mutual submission and synergy between him and his wife in vivid terms. "For a good wife contains so many persons in herself. What was Joy not to me? She was my daughter and my mother, my pupil and my teacher, my subject and my sovereign; and always, holding all these in solution, my trusty comrade, friend, shipmate, fellow-soldier. My mistress; but at the same time all that any man friend (and I have good ones) has ever been to me. Perhaps more. If we had never fallen in love we should have none the less been always together, and created a scandal."

Complementary Rhythms

A shift towards greater synergy cannot be done out of obligation. It must be done out of conviction and felt need, because it is costly to all parties involved. However, if there is sufficient motivation, here is how we have pursued it as a team at Southlands. This is by no means prescriptive to any church or eldership team. It is how we function at this point in time with our wives and may be a good place for you to start.

a. Prayer together for the church. Finding a regular opportunity to share and pray for people and situations that are praise-worthy or burdensome is a great place to start for husbands and wives.  Although a wife may not necessarily feel burdened for the church in the same way as her husband, she can empathize and help with the burden in the same way that a husband can empathize with and help his pregnant wife while not carrying the baby himself. Prayer together halves our burdens and doubles our joy, honestly.   

 b. Counseling married couples together. In some ways this is obvious. An elder counseling married couples by himself may be able to offer wisdom but will not be nearly as effective as when he is with his wife. The ability to share their own personal challenges and lessons in their marriage as well as have a wife’s unique perspective will generally serve to untangle difficult marriage situations much more effectively.

c. Providing perspective on major decisions. Our elders meet together every week to discuss and pray for pastoral, operational and visionary matters in the life of the church. Every second week our wives meet together with us. This is costly, especially for those with young families or busy careers, but proves effective in maintaining team chemistry and building a culture of shared ownership within the church. Beyond this it has proved invaluable in hearing our wives perspective, often intuitive and sometimes strategic, as we seek God on significant decisions we face as elders. Our wives have never assumed the role of governing the church, but we are aware that on many occasions they have had wisdom from God that has greatly enhanced our ability to make wise decisions for the sake of the church.

d. Public Mothering moments in a meeting. At times there are moments in a gathering that seem more appropriate for a mother’s voice than a father’s voice, just like some songs are better led by a woman than a man. Giving room for an elder’s wife to speak on marriage and parenting from a women’s point of view, do a call to worship, or to share on an aspect of God’s character like selflessness, faithfulness, or kindness. This may include prayer or prophecy or a word of encouragement that causes the church to feel the wisdom and tenderness of a mother.

 The proof of the pudding is in the eating

We are in the process of adopting a church that comes from an Egalitarian denomination to become a Southlands community. Our Complementarian position was one of their sticking points until they met our elder's wives, saw how strongly invested they were in the church and observed how their voices and ministries were celebrated as an integral part of our leadership team. I was saddened to hear their impression of Complementarian churches was that women were kept as silent servants in the background, rather than empowered to be vital ministers in the life of God's family. At the end of the day, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. A Complementarian view of men and women should give dignity to both men and women and produce synergy as they work together as a team.   

Let's ask God for his help to move us from together alone to better together. 

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